This is an excerpt of my novel, A Thousand Years.
The day everything made sense again, the sweat dripped down my shirt, pooling between my breasts and running down my back. I longed for a swift and harsh southern thunderstorm to rip through town, cooling everything in its wake – including me. But I’m not that lucky. Standing in the center of town, I turn around in a circle taking in the bustle of a town getting ready for its tricentennial. My tiny staff is directing and guiding city employees in the finishing touches. Our official celebration kicks off in two hours and marks a week of events – most planned by yours truly. I told my staff earlier today that I couldn’t function unless I’d showered before the kickoff. But it’s August in North Carolina. I am sopping wet again. August in the south is about as close to hell as one can get. Even here in the mountains – especially this year – a scorcher for the record books. I guess there’s really no point to worry over this, everyone’s in the same boat.
As if on cue, a bolt of lightning lights up the ever-darkening sky and thunder quickly follows on its heels. The deluge begins then. I race across the street & duck into The Filling Station, but not before the rain has soaked me to the bone. Macy, the new owner, is behind the counter. I head toward her hoping I don’t look as bad as I feel. “What can I get you, Birdie? An iced-coffee maybe? I know you’ve got a long week ahead, maybe have a seat and dry off a minute, before getting sucked into the craziness?”
“I think I’ll take you up on that offer,” I say, as water drips onto the black and white checkered tile of the town’s oldest café. “It’s probably best if I stand here though. I’m sopping wet.”
“Eh. Don’t worry about it,” she says, pointing to an open barstool at the end of the counter. I sit down and moments later, Jess, one of the servers, walks out with a towel and hands it to me.
“Thank you, sweetie,” I say, taking the towel and wiping down my bare legs and arms and then slowly patting my head with the towel – feeling a little weird doing so at the busiest restaurant in town.
Johnny, the former owner and now sometimes cook and barista, when he’s not fishing or hunting – that is, walks out of the kitchen. Without missing a beat he says, “You look like a drowned rat, Birdie.”
“Thanks, Mr. Johnny. That’s exactly the look I was going for.” He hands me my coffee and as usual, he’s added a little extra flair of chocolate and caramel sauce on the whipped cream – just for me. I love my town.
Only me. Only I would be drenched from head to toe – today of all days. After checking on my hair and makeup in the bathroom, I grab my coffee and head back outside. Now that the storm has passed, the steam roils and rolls in smoky wisps from the asphalt. The air is cooler, but only slightly. I cross the street and set my drink down on the gazebo bench and stand in the sun, hoping my clothes will dry quickly all the while contemplating if I have enough time to get the two blocks to my house for a quick change. I look at my phone and then all around. Everything is done. My staff, the city employees, and volunteers have done an incredible job. We are ahead of schedule. I slip off my flats, grab my coffee in the other hand, and run toward home.
Good thing I had a back-up outfit ready. Once in the house, I race to the bedroom, thankful that my old house has a new AC unit. It is gloriously cool inside. I slip on my white eyelet Michael Kors dress. Since it’s already rained, I’m willing to tempt fate with the white. I grab my espadrilles on the bedroom floor and as I step into the hallway, the doorbell chimes through the house. What a racket that thing makes. Note to self – it’s time to get a new doorbell before I leave on vacation. I come around the corner and through the glass on my door I make out the form of a man. That looks like Graham, I think, as a I reach for the door and open it.
“Gray?” I ask – as if the past few years have somehow made me forget what the love of my life looks like.
“Hi. I know this is crazy. But I needed to see you. Can we talk?”
“Now? I’m kind of busy. I mean, I can’t talk now. You always did have shitty timing. I have this event. I have to go – “I say, shaking my head as if this mirage of a man standing in front of me will disappear.
“I know. I’m here because I saw you on the news. I was in the café when you came in. I’m not going to lie. I obviously can’t. I followed you here. I knew I had to take my shot. I can stay and talk to you afterward. Or when you have a free moment. I can just hang out. I need to talk to you – please?”
“I guess. I – I have to get moving,” I say as I pull the door shut, locking it and slipping my keys into my dress pocket. Graham follows me down the steps. I don’t wait for him. I take off in a jog, leaving him behind. I mean, I barely jog. He’s a runner, runner. Like ultra-marathon runner. It’s not like he can’t catch me. But I do it anyway. I don’t look back. Kind of like I did after the last time I saw him.
Within seconds of leaving my porch, the town square comes into view. It’s then that I realize my phone has been buzzing and pinging with texts and alerts. In the brief time it took me to get home, change, and head back – the park has filled with residents, the tourists that pay the bills, and former residents. And who can forget the media? I practically had to pay them to come. But whatever. They’re here. I stop jogging and drop my shoes on the concrete. I slip into them and bend down to buckle them. When I stand up, I try to sneak a glance behind me. Gray is nowhere in sight. I’m relieved. He has the worst timing – always has – since literally the day we met.